Breathe Easy

The pandemic has made our air cleaner, but politicians and environmentalists alike say this is no time to pat ourselves on the back.

Our city’s air quality has been a part of its identity since our industrial past, when Pittsburgh was known as The Smoky City — or even more poetically, “hell with the lid taken off.”

The region has made noticeable improvements over the years and continues to get better, as you can see in our Earth Day feature.

The pollutants that are directly linked to health problems have dropped and in late January, the Allegheny Health Department announced that preliminary data for all of the county’s air quality monitors met the federal standard for the first time.

Pandemic restrictions that kept cars off the road are no doubt responsible in large part, but environmental regulations, greener vehicles and the closure of coal-burning energy plants in favor of natural gas facilities have contributed to the effort.

Still, politicians and environmentalists alike say this is no time to pat ourselves on the back.

“It’s not like we’re in compliance and the work stops,” county executive Rich Fitzgerald tells us.

Just this year, the county entered a deal supporting a hydroelectric power facility on the Ohio River that will power county buildings. Pittsburgh International Airport is creating a microgrid of solar panels and natural gas power plants. Community College of Allegheny County is investing in solar energy. And electric buses have become part of the public transit fleet.

There are numerous private and nonprofit green initiatives as well. The 2030 District by the Green Building Alliance is a voluntary coalition of building owners committed to reducing energy and water use 50 percent below 2003 levels by 2030.

The benefits of these efforts aren’t limited to making the region a healthier place to live; they have economic impacts as well. Many people believe Pittsburgh lost its bid to host an Amazon headquarters because the company was committed to using 100 percent renewable energy; Pittsburgh was unable to deliver on that.

With continued hard work, we can stop making headlines in the American Lung Association’s “State of the Air” report (, which consistently ranks the region among the worst in the country for air pollution.

There is no doubt we have come a long way. But like a marathon, the last miles require the most willpower. Pittsburghers never quit before the race is won.

Brian can be reached at

Categories: Editor